Fantine's assault by a rejected customer is based on an actual incident from Victor Hugo's life that resulted in Fantine's creation: he was on his way to his editor's office when he encountered a young man harassing a prostitute. When she rejected his advances, he shoved a handful of snow down her dress and shoved her to the ground. When she defended herself with her fists, he immediately called the police to arrest his "assailant". Hugo was a minor celebrity at the time, and spoke up on the woman's behalf when the police arrived, and was able to have her set free. Hugo said he was horrified by the unfairness of the woman's situation, and began to imagine that she might have children depending on her, and thus Fantine appeared in his mind.
Typically, the soundtrack for a movie musical is recorded several months in advance and the actors mime to playback during filming. However, on this film, nearly every song* was recorded live on set to capture the spontaneity of the performances. Everyone involved, from Hugh Jackman to Russell Crowe to producer Cameron Mackintosh, has praised this approach as it allowed them to concentrate on their acting as opposed to lip-syncing properly. They have also praised director Tom Hooper for attempting this on such a scale; something no director has ever done before.
One song (Look Down) set in the dock yard, did have to be pre-recorded, as it was not possible to perform and record it live due to the water and other ambient noises in the scene.
Hugh Jackman lost considerable weight and went 36 hours without water, causing him to lose water weight around around his eyes and cheeks, giving him the gaunt appearance of a prisoner. He also grew a real scraggly beard for scenes of Valjean as a prisoner, though mercifully they were shot first in production and he could shave and return to his usual weight for scenes playing Valjean as a wealthy man. '
Recording the actors' singing live as they're acting may not be a first for this film, but the scope (and especially the manner in which it's being done) is: The actors wore ear pieces which fed the sound of a live piano being played off-stage to keep their singing in key. The main novelty here is that there's no count-in or predetermined tempo and the piano is following the pacing of the actor, not the other way around - a first for a filmed musical. Orchestral music was added post-production.
While it seems odd, the "coffin" to which Fantine takes her first "john" is really the type of bed used by poorer people at that time. The raised sides helped to keep the sleeper warm. People who were better off either had bed curtains on all sides or slept in a small partition with curtains that could be closed to hold in the heat.
Due to the physical demands of daily singing, none of the cast was allowed alcohol. Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried both admitted it was a challenge to not be able to drink, and Crowe bought Seyfried a bottle of whiskey as a present after filming wrapped.
Anne Hathaway refuses to discuss how she lost 25 pounds to play the dying Fantine, as she admits her methods were life threatening, and doesn't want to glamorize or promote her methods to young women. However, she has confirmed eating oatmeal paste as one of the reasons of her weight loss.
Despite reports of having the number finished in one shot, Anne Hathaway confirmed in a interview, that it took eight hours to film "I Dreamed a Dream", because she wanted to get the scene deeper and more emotional. The fourth take made it in the final cut.
Anne Hathaway actually allowed her hair to be cut very short for the scene where Fantine's hair is cut. Her male hairdresser was put in a dress to double as the haircutting woman, actually cutting Hathaway's hair on set.
Alfie Boe auditioned for the role of Jean Valjean, having played the role for the 25th anniversary concert. He later claimed that his audition immediately preceded Hugh Jackman's, whom he saw waiting outside for his turn.
Coincidentally, Anne Hathaway sang with Hugh Jackman at the Academy Awards (twice). The second time, Hathaway was hosting and sang 'On My Own' to Jackman, because he refused to sing with her. Later, Jackman was cast in this movie, and he suggested Hathaway as Fantine. She was later cast.
Amanda Seyfried said in an interview that it took over four months of auditioning to get the part of Cosette. She was entirely unaware of the other young women auditioning/ being considered for the role, but she was constantly told that she was "not right" for this musical film. During the audition process, Seyfried was also singing and reading for the role of Fantine, and forced herself to get into vocal and physical shape for strong consideration for either one of the roles. When Anne Hathaway signed on as Fantine, Seyfried was given the role of Cosette.
After many months of auditioning, Samantha Barks landed the role of Eponine, which she had previously played in the West End and in the 25th anniversary concert. Barks was performing in Oliver! in Manchester when, to her surprise, Cameron Mackintosh came on stage and announced that she had been cast. Barks later described it via Twitter as the "Most incredible moment of my life!!!!".
In a running gag, Thénardier claims to love Cosette like his own daughter but can never quite remember her name correctly. He incorrectly calls her "Colette" several times, and also once calls her "Courgette." "Courgette" is the French word for "zucchini." Although not mentioned in the musical, in Victor Hugo's source novel explains that "Cosette" is in fact also not the girl's real name; her given name is "Euphrasie," and "Cosette" is a nickname that her mother gave her.
In addition to the actors singing live, which allowed them to improvise their singing patterns, much of the movement was improvised as well. Particularly, Valjean's first solo, the Soliloquy, was filmed using a Steadicam and allowed Hugh Jackman to move as he saw fit in order to convey the heavy emotion of the scene.
The battle, along with other scenes, were filmed on the campus of the Old Royal Naval college in Greenwich, London, which is home to the University of Greenwich. Many students were used as extras in crowd and battle scenes.
According to Anne Hathaway in an interview, Tom Hooper suggested that she try a take of her big song, "I Dreamed a Dream" in the coffin. But it was agreed by all involved that it looked too ridiculous.
An extended version of "Beggar at the Feast" was filmed, but not included, due to the length of time it took for filming. It included the Thenardiers frolicking with the wedding cake, among other things.
Years earlier Anne Hathaway had the chance to play the female lead in another Broadway musical film adaptation; that of Christine Daaé in Joel Schumacher's The Phantom of the Opera (2004). She had to turn the role down, as she was under contract with Disney to make The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004).
The large, crumbling elephant statue that features prominently during several scenes in the movie was both a real statue in Paris (between 1813 and 1846) and a focus of vivid description by Victor Hugo in his novel Les Misérables. Known as "The Elephant of the Bastille," Napoléon Bonaparte originally intended the statue to be a bronze monument to his military achievements at the former site of the Bastille, cast from the guns captured at the Battle of Friedland; the design was only ever rendered in plaster and wood, but was considerably larger than the replica shown in the film. By the time of its demolition in 1846, the statue had become a haven for vermin and was significantly degraded structurally. In the novel, Hugo describes it as an ugly, dilapidated, widely despised public eyesore. The circular basin on which the elephant stood remains to this day, supporting the socle of the July Column.
Colm Wilkinson, who plays the Bishop who covers for Jean Valjean's thievery, is the original Jean Valjean from the original English Les Misérables stage productions, in both London (1985) and on Broadway (1987). He has also reprised the part in several of the concert versions.
Frances Ruffelle, the original Eponine on Broadway and in the West End, will be returning to Les Mis as a prostitute. When producer Cameron Mackintosh made the announcement, Ruffelle's character name was "The Most Fabulous Whore". Ruffelle also appeared in the 25th Anniversary Concert for Les Miserables taking the stage with the original London cast.
The Broadway production of 'Les Misérables' opened at the Broadway Theater on March 12, 1987, and ran for 6,680 performances, making this production the third longest running show on Broadway (February 2013). In 1990, it transferred to the Imperial Theater. Les Misérables was nominated for thirteen 1987 Tony Awards, and won eight: Best Musical, Best Featured Actor (Michael Maguire), Best Featured Actress (Frances Ruffelle), Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design, Best Lighting Design, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Score and Best Book.
Jackie Marks has come full circle as 'Factory Woman'. She was in the original RSC production, creating the role of the factory girl, and was the first British Fantine taking over the role from Patti LuPone. She also recently played Madame Thenardier at the Queens Theatre in London.
To keep Hugh Jackman's morale up while repeatedly carrying Eddie Redmayne through the sewers on his shoulder, a fake, odorless face-cream mud, like the type in a spa, was used for the sludge, rather than real mud and sewage.
Tom Hooper and Cinematographer Danny Cohen, considered shooting the film in 70mm. However, they abandoned the idea, because of the prohibitive cost; that the size and weight of 70mm cameras would have prevented the hand-held shooting style they planned for some scenes and also the particularly noisy cameras would have been audible during the recording of the live singing of some of the songs (such as Fantine's I Dreamed a Dream.)
Les Misérables is categorized as a "sung-through" musical. Unlike most musicals, which alternate between singing and spoken dialogue, sung-through musicals have very few spoken lines. If the spoken lines were eliminated altogether, it would be an operetta.
As in the novel, the group of students led by Enjolras and Marius call themselves the "Friends of the ABC". This name is a pun, as the French pronunciation of the letters ABC (ah-beh-seh) sounds like the French word "abaissés" (the "lowly"/"abased"/"oppressed").
The primary poster used to advertise the film is a head-and-shoulders cropped photograph of Isabelle Allen as a weary, sad young Cosette, with her hair blowing across her face. This photo reproduces the image usually used to market the stage musical, which is a black-and-white sketch of young Cosette, often superimposed over a red-white-and-blue image of the French flag. This is based on an etching by Gustave Brion of the waif Cosette sweeping the Thénardiers' inn, which is in turn based on a drawing by Émile Bayard which appeared in several of the novel's earliest French-language editions.
The London production of Les Mis has run continuously since 1985. As of 2017 it holds the record for the longest-running musical in the West End, and the second-longest-running musical in the world after the original off-Broadway run of "The Fantasticks".
Several of the melodies are reused from song to song, sometimes given a completely different meaning in the new context. For example. the songs "Who Am I?" and "One Day More" have the same melody part for Jean Valjean.
The film's plot occurs in three time periods. It starts in 1815, with Valjean's parole at the Bagne of Toulon prison and encounter with the Bishop of Digne. It then jumps to 1823, with Valjean living in Montreuil, Pas-de-Calais, his encounters with Fantine and Javert, and his recovery of Cosette from the Thénardiers in Montfermeil. Then it jumps again to 1832, in Paris. The climactic "Friends of the ABC" battle at the barricades, known by historians as the June Rebellion or the Paris Uprising of 1832, took place on June 5-6, 1832.
The musical version of Les Mis started out as a concept album in 1979, composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg with French language lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, which was staged at the Palais des Sports in 1980. However, the production was unsuccessful, and closed after three months when the booking contract expired. In 1983, stage director Peter Farago convinced producer Cameron Mackintosh to finance an English-language adaptation. On 8 October 1985, the English version, with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, opened in London by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Center. The London show was a resounding success, leading to a Broadway production.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
During the "Master Of The House" song (at around 49 minutes), you can see the Thenardiers stealing someone's bags, which they trade for a basket with a baby. That baby is actually Gavroche, the Thenardiers' abandoned child. It is not stated in the musical, but it is in the book. In an interview with Tom Hooper, he stated it was a clue to see if someone knew who actually that baby was.
The medal that Javert affixes to the dead Gavroche is the Legion of Honour, the highest decoration in France. Tom Hooper claimed that the moment was Russell Crowe's idea, who wanted more foreshadowing to Javert's suicide.
During the filming of Valjean's death, Anne Hathaway had to duck under a camera to get to her next position next to Hugh Jackman as she sang "take my hand....". During an interview, Hathaway said that she had the idea of sliding under the camera to reduce the rustling of her dress. Instead, Hathaway had her foot caught and smacked straight to the ground. While Jackman kept a straight face, Hathaway tried to play it off though she was laughing during her singing bit. Hathaway also said that Seyfried and Redmayne were unaware of what happened, and were only confused by her suppressed laughing while singing; Seyfried was whispering "what the f*ck" to Redmayne as they were embracing.
Though cut from the theatrical edit, Anne Hathaway insisted that she perform a single stunt that involved Fantine's corpse being thrown from a window into a waiting cart. Tom Hooper and the producers had already hired a stunt woman and were hesitant to allow Anne to make the fall. Anne was able to convince them to let her perform the stunt when she stated, "Don't make me say it... guys, I'm Catwoman" (from The Dark Knight Rises (2012)).
In the film, Enjolras dies in a similar position to the character in the stage show, hanging upside down. The main difference is that in the stage show he hangs from the barricade instead of out of a window.
The Bishop's appearance at the end of the movie is a nod to the novel, where, as Valjean is dying, he is asked if he wants a priest. He responds by pointing to a spot above his head and saying he has one, implying that the Bishop is bearing witness.
In the sewer scene, Thénardier says "Here's a pretty ring" before Jean Valjean wakes up and grabs him. This is a reference to the second verse in the corresponding song "Dog Eats Dog" from the musical, "Here's a tasty ring, pretty little thing..." This song was not included in the motion picture.
Writing is partially visible on the barricade as Marius comforts a fatally wounded Éponine (A Little Fall of Rain). After Éponine dies, students carry her away, revealing the word "mort", death in French.
During a take of the scene, where Courfeyrac picks up dead Gavroche, Fra Fee actually dropped Daniel Huttlestone, and before his head could hit the ground, Fra's hand caught Daniel's head as it hit. Daniel ended up crying, and Fra admitted that he felt terrible after that, and was scared it was going to happen again.
As noted on-screen, the July Revolution of 1830 replaced one monarch, Charles X (House of Bourbon), with another, Louis Phillippe (House of Orléans). Although the June Rebellion of 1832 (seen in the film as the battle of the barricades) ultimately failed to bring a new republic, its embers would burn on and eventually lead to the French Revolution of 1848, and the creation of the Second French Republic. After one more reversal in 1852, the French monarchy would finally be permanently abolished in 1870.